Geography is a diverse subject: I’m sure you all know this from GCSE and A-Level. At University, it becomes even more diverse. This blog will explore what it is like to study Geography at Oxford University, and why you should apply.
As mentioned above, Geography’s diversity as a discipline is what attracts a lot of people to the subject. The course at Oxford found me studying geomorphology and the effects of vegetation on land surfaces one week, and the politics and practices of security in the 21st Century, the next. Diversity does not just reside in the content of the subject, however. The range of students and staff at the School of Geography and the Environment (SoGE) allows for an interesting mix of personalities and learning styles.
This makes it difficult to become bored. If you aren’t interested in your set work one week, you’re sure to be interested in it next week. The way the course is organised in the first year of study (or prelims) is such that you study four key areas of Geography: Human Geography, Earth Systems Processes, Geographical Techniques and Geographical Controversies. Two pieces of fieldwork are also carried out, as well as an extended essay on a geographical controversy of your choice. Prelims prepare students for Final Honour School (FHS), the second and third years of study in which your degree is classified.
FHS is comprised of three compulsory modules, and three option topics. You choose two of the three core modules: Space, Place and Society (broadly Human Geography) Earth System Dynamics (broadly Physical Geography) and Environmental Geography. Your third compulsory module is Geographical Research. You also choose three option topics as part of FHS. These topics give you the chance to explore certain areas of Geography in more detail than usual, and you must write an extended essay in each (4,500 words on an area of your choice). Examples of option topics include Geographies of Finance, Contemporary India, Transport and Mobilities, Climate Change and Variability, Biogeography, Biodiversity and Conservation, and African Societies.
The final part of FHS is a 12,000-word dissertation, which truly gives you the chance to explore an area of your choice. You must carry out original research and write your dissertation in the summer after your second year. This is an area in which Geography’s diversity is often flaunted, with dissertation titles spanning a variety of topics, from the London 2012 Olympic Games, to petrol stations in Oxford, to climate change around the world. There are many grants available to support students with their dissertation, including travel costs and equipment. A full outline of both prelims and FHS can be found here.
The skills acquired whilst studying Geography mean that students go on to pursue a range of careers from law, to film production, and often onto further study. Employers frequently contact the SoGE to advertise career opportunities especially for Geographers. The Geography department at Oxford does a lot to help its students; including exam preparation and style advice, to career planning and graduate opportunities. This is reflected in Oxford’s ranking as the best Geography department in the world.
What makes Geography so fascinating to me is the breadth and depth to which you can delve into an area of study. Most of all, however, it is the enthusiasm of all Geographers for their own subject and research that makes it such an interesting discipline.